Strickland wasting taxpayer money

Here is an astounding item I received from a friend, regarding State Assemblyman Tony Strickland, who is trying to elect his wife to fill his seat, as he is termed out. I don’t usually reproduce whole articles in this blog, but this one is worth reading:

Strickland mail costs taxpayers $113,000

Assemblyman spent more than colleagues

By Timm Herdt,

January 27, 2004

SACRAMENTO — Between Dec. 9 and Jan. 2, Assemblyman Tony Strickland sent more than 630,000 pieces of mail to constituents in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, at a cost to taxpayers in excess of $113,000.

The mailings were sent during the last 24 days before the start of a mandatory pre-election blackout period, at a time when Strickland’s wife, Audra, is competing in a four-way primary campaign for the Republican nomination to succeed her husband. The costs incurred by Strickland during that period were more than double those of any other member of the 80-person Assembly.

Records on the mailings and their costs were released late last week by the Assembly Rules Committee in response to a request from The Star under the Legislative Open Records Act.

Audra Strickland’s opponents in the March 2 primary assailed the mailings as politically motivated and a questionable use of tax money.

“The timing and abundance of these mailers make it clearly inappropriate,” said Jeff Gorell, a deputy district attorney. “They were designed to benefit his wife’s campaign through building name recognition. … If Audra wants to do the right thing, she should reimburse taxpayers out of her campaign account.”

Mike Robinson, an aide to Sen. Tom McClintock, said the expense is difficult to justify at a time when all in state government have been asked to tighten their belts.

“At the time of a severe budget crisis, this is probably not the best way to spend taxpayers’ money,” Robinson said.

During the period, Strickland sent 12 separate mailings, seven of them from Dec. 29 to Jan. 2. The combined cost of all the mailings was $113,571.25.

Strickland noted that the money comes from a discretionary office account each member can spend for a variety of purposes, from staff salaries to constituent mailers. Since his election six years ago, Strickland has consistently been among the Assembly’s most prolific mailers.

“I’ve dedicated a large portion of my budget to constituent mailers,” he said. “The only people making a big deal of this are political opponents. Constituents have been very positive. … When I was walking door to door this weekend, people were telling me that they appreciated being kept informed of what’s going on in Sacramento.”

The mailings include such pieces as a survey that asks constituents’ views on such issues as the state budget and a letter touting Strickland’s bills in the Legislature, including sponsoring a resolution to name a stretch of Highway 101 in Ventura County the “Screaming Eagles Highway.”

Under the rules of the Assembly and regulations adopted by the Fair Political Practices Commission, taxpayer-paid mail sent by lawmakers must not engage in excessive self-promotion. It may not include a photograph of the lawmaker, and the use of his or her name is limited to three mentions.

Bob Stern, president of the Los Angeles-based Center for Governmental Studies, said voters sought to ban such mailers outright when they approved Proposition 73 in 1988.

The language of proposition of 73 is direct: “No newsletter or other mass mailing shall be sent at public expense.”

Subsequent regulations of the Fair Political Practices Commission have enabled legislators to get around that law, Stern said, “but they’re not as blatant as they used to be.”

Jim Knox, executive director of California Common Cause, said constituent mailers “have a valid and proper role.” The problem, he said, is when the mailers become “thinly disguised campaign mailers. … This close to an election, I think he has probably crossed the line. You can’t help but think that this an effort to promote name recognition of a candidate.”

Assembly records show that Strickland has spent more on mailings over the past six months than any other member, but over that longer term there were a handful of other members who spent nearly as much. Since July 1, Strickland spent about $141,000; three other members also spent more than $100,000 during that period.

Strickland said he sent most of his mail in December and on Jan. 2 because it was a time when California had just gotten a new governor and a new legislative session was beginning.

“I choose to let constituents know what’s going on rather than keep them in the dark,” he said.

Robinson, whose duties in McClintock’s Thousand Oaks office included constituent communications, said there are cheaper ways to do that than bulk mailings.

“You certainly should answer anybody who contacts you,” Robinson said, “and I know that e-mail is free.”

About Art Pedroza